Genesis Engineering is transforming how astronauts work in space

04/17/2023| Amanda Winters

Genesis Engineering is transforming how astronauts work in space

04/17/2023 | Amanda Winters

Working in space is a dangerous job.

One of the riskiest parts is traveling outside the spacecraft, and until now, the only way to do it was while wearing a spacesuit.

That’s why one Prince George’s County company is developing a safer, more efficient way to work in zero gravity.

Genesis Engineering , a Lanham-based aerospace company, is manufacturing the Single Person Spacecraft  (SPS), which allows astronauts and space tourists rapid access to space without the many hours of special training required for suited operations.

SPS is slated to be used at Orbital Reef , a potential replacement for the International Space Station . The space-based business park – a collaborative effort between Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos), Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space, Arizona State University, and Genesis – is expected to be operational by 2030.

Orbital Reef

But how did a Maryland small business get involved with such a prominent project?

Genesis was founded by owner Robert Rashford, who left Jamaica in 1978 to attend college in the United States. After graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from Temple University, he worked for RCA’s space division in New Jersey, and then moved to Maryland to work for the Fairchild Space Company in Germantown.

“I was always interested in Maryland,” said Rashford. “When I would visit Washington, D.C., and drive through the DMV area, I loved the diversity and thought it would be great to set up shop here.”

Rashford knew locating a business in Prince George’s County would put Genesis in close proximity to some of the industry’s largest contenders, and government agencies like NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He also was familiar with NASA Goddard’s contracts, having worked with the space agency while employed at Fairchild.

So in 1993, Rashford formed Genesis Engineering with a total of $350. One of the first contracts it was awarded was for work on the Hubble Space Telescope. Since then, Genesis has grown to 200 employees and worked on some of the most renowned space projects, including the International Space Station and the James Webb Space Telescope .

“Genesis has been very fortunate to have a rich heritage in building things for NASA,” said Rashford. “Many contracts focus on science and services, where people are hired to help. What makes Genesis distinct is that a company our size is focused on building products.”

While working on the Hubble program, Rashford was tasked with building tools and tool lockers for astronaut spacewalks. He quickly understood the challenges astronauts experienced, including the dangers of wearing old and outdated spacesuits.

“These [missions] take a toll,” said Rashford. “Rigid parts of a spacesuit can rub against the skin and bone, causing painful abrasions and delamination of fingernails. Another concern is loose water from the suit’s cooling garment. If it leaks, it can get into the helmet , and can cause a potentially fatal situation. Having this knowledge, we thought, ‘can we come up with a way to address these issues?’”

This experience helped Genesis land its most innovative project so far—designing and patenting a vehicle for space travel.

Genesis Engineering's single person spacecraft

The Single Person Spacecraft provides an easier environment for astronauts working in outer space. Rashford tells us it can attach to the space station and provides the same air pressure and gas composition as the astronaut’s living station. That accessibility allows workers to go from eating breakfast to hopping outside into the spacecraft, without the hours of pre-breathing required to prevent getting the “bends.”  It also provides precision from force-multiplying robotics to help astronauts complete certain tasks, which are impossible inside a spacesuit since they lack the dexterity needed. Lastly, because there isn’t a cooling garment inside the SPS, leaks are not a concern.

Genesis is planning to expand its successful manufacturing operations in Prince George’s County, with the potential for hundreds of new jobs. And in addition to growing its workforce, the company is also investing in the next generation of workers with a donation to a local STEM initiative.

“We want to be a good role model for students in STEM, and want to show young people that this is a good career path in the sciences,” said Rashford. “A company of this size, doing this kind of work, is incredible. We believe the spacecraft will disrupt the industry…it is the way of the future.”

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